When did I stop listening to music? And why?
In 2008, I bought or acquired 78 albums 1, a number that stuns me now but at the time didn’t feel excessive in the least. Now months will go by — years, even — when I only get a handful of songs, and rarely an album. When did that change? What did that? I’m still trying to figure it out, and I only have partial solutions:
I stopped physically buying music. I used to regularly visit used CD stores and prowl the racks of my favorite genres, looking for new arrivals of old albums by artists I always kept tabs on. Most Fridays, I’d see a movie to review at the Arclight and pop in at Amoeba Music next door, and on weekends I’d often wander down to a local chain called Second Spin to see if they had anything worthwhile. Most of the albums I bought were between $5 and $9 — minor purchases — but it still added up to plenty of new-to-me music. I occasionally bought new releases 2, but for the most part I was just grabbing a few old discs when I could.
This has almost totally stopped. Going to a music store is no longer part of my routine, and I still don’t buy that many new releases. As a result, my purchases have dropped dramatically. This feels like a legitimate reason for much of my decline in new listening. But also:
I decided to spend money on other things. Buying music means using discretionary income, and I wound up channeling it into other things. Some of it still entertainment-related: games, movies, trips. But some of it on just regular life things, like clothes and bills. My living situation has changed a lot since then, and especially since 2008, my last full year to live in California before moving back to Texas. And I did that because:
I fell in love. A lot of music is about sadness. This isn’t a bad thing, either. We all experience pain and heartache and loss, and artists draw upon those things for the works they create. Most pop music is, in some way, tragic:
When we think of the pop charts, we tend to conceive of hit songs as bouncy and cheery puff. We imagine hits as having a self-defining airiness, a lightness of spirit which critics of pop sometimes project upon the music’s audience and conflate with dimness of mind. Hit songs, as we generally think of them, are resolutely, simplistically upbeat expressions of romantic bliss—and so a great many hits have been. Long before Paul McCartney and Wings, there were deeply silly love songs such as “You Are My Sunshine,” which was published the same year that “I’ll Never Smile Again” became a hit. Yet, the musical and lyrical sunniness of “You Are My Sunshine” has never been a requisite of success for a pop tune, and love songs have always been more likely to deal with the yearning for love, the complications of love, love’s betrayal, or the loss of love (or even, sometimes, the loss of life) than the fancied bliss of love fulfilled. As the songs on the first Billboard chart remind us, a strain of sadness has long been laced through the popular songbook. Music listeners’ likes have never been restricted to things that make them happy.
But when I fell in love with the woman I would eventually marry, a lot of the music I used to listen to stopped having the kind of meaning for me that it used to. I’d still listen to them for their beauty, or because they reminded me of who I used to be, but I was worlds away from feeling the kind of spiritual connection to songs about loneliness that I used to feel. And I have to think that being that happy made me less interested in a lot of music, or at least a lot of the music I used to listen to. I can still connect to a sad song, sure — the same way I can still connect to a sad movie, or TV series — but there’s something personal and intimate about music, something about the way listening to a song becomes a way to define yourself, if only in your own head, and my evolution into a generally happier person meant that most of the signals I used to send (externally and internally) didn’t make sense any more. I bought less music because I needed music less.
I still love music, of course. 3 And I’m always looking for something new-to-me that will get my gears turning. But I don’t experience music the way I used to, and not in the same quantities. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, either.